Shipwrecked Lego Provides Insights Into Ocean Plastic Movements

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
©. Levent Konuk /

Since a 1997 storm washed away a shipment, Lego finds have been reported from England to Australia.

Twenty-one years ago yesterday, a massive wave hit a freight ship called the Tokio Express off the South West coast of England. Along with 60 others, a container packed with over 4.7 million pieces of Lego was washed overboard. Much of it was sea themed, and beach goers across the UK have been finding and sharing such pieces ever since via a Facebook page dubbed Lego Lost at Sea. But the pieces haven't just showed up on British beaches—possible finds from the Tokio Express have also been reported in Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Texas and even Melbourne, Australia.

The BBC Magazine reported on this story back in 2015, sharing stories of artists finding plastic dragons and a Cornish fisherman regularly dredging up harvests of Lego in his nets.

It's a pretty fascinating story. And given the fact that everyone from the BBC to the Queen are now breaking up with plastic, this story can be a great way to demonstrate just how far plastic can travel in our oceans and perhaps even engage young people in a #2MinuteBeachClean to see what they can find.

If you happen to be heading out on a beach clean and would like to keep an eye out for Tokio Express castaways, the BBC Magazine reprinted this list from a copy of Beachcombers' Alert:

—Toy kits - Divers, Aquazone, Aquanauts, Police, FrightKnights, WildWest, RoboForce TimeCruisers, Outback, Pirates
—Spear guns (red and yellow) - 13,000 items
—Black octopus - 4,200
—Yellow life preserver - 26,600
—Diver flippers (in pairs: black, blue, red) - 418,000
—Dragons (black and green) - 33,941
—Brown ship rigging net - 26,400
—Daisy flowers (in fours - white, red, yellow) - 353,264
—Scuba and breathing apparatus (grey) - 97,500
—Total of 4,756,940 Lego pieces lost overboard in a single container
—Estimated 3,178,807 may be light enough to have floated

Of course, Lego has gotten a mixed review on TreeHugger over the years. Its now defunct partnership with an oil company didn't exactly thrill environmentalists, but reaching 100% renewable energy three years early was an achievement well worth celebrating.

However helpful shipwrecked Lego is in mapping out ocean currents, I suspect most of us would still be delighted if the company can make good on its pledges to phase out plastic, especially if the new material is fully marine degradable.

But Lego-obsessed beachcombers, fear not. Sadly, I suspect dragons, octopuses, daisies and scuba gear will be washing up on our beaches for many decades to come.